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It's Alive! - Fundraising Wroughton Lecture considers the legacy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

It's Alive! - Fundraising Wroughton Lecture considers the legacy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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24 October 2018

The School was delighted to welcome the eminent cultural historian and award-winning broadcaster, Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, to KES on 18 October to give the seventeenth annual Wroughton Lecture. The lecture series is sponsored by former Headmaster, Dr John Wroughton, with all ticket sales supporting the School’s Bursary Fund.

Sir Christopher has had a distinguished career as an academic and in the Arts. Best known for his study of popular culture, he has had a wide output as a writer, broadcaster and critic on subjects ranging from vampires to westerns. A recognised authority on Gothic fiction and film, his illustrated lecture revisited the birth of Frankenstein, in the light of recent research, to explore how a limited edition three volume novel turned into a global brand.

Speaking to a rapt audience of pupils, parents, staff and the wider KES community, Sir Christopher began with a fascinating insight into the life of the young Mary Shelley, and the context within which she developed her ground-breaking novel. She was 18 when she conceived the idea, 19 when she wrote the novel whilst living in Bath, and 20 when it was published. Initially thought to be too radical in its implication, the pro-science book took decades to become a best seller. In 1823, however, the novel was adapted for the stage, and with this re-telling of the story, Frankenstein began its journey into the bloodstream of contemporary culture.

Drawing on an array of visual imagery, including a facsimile reprint of the earliest-known manuscript version of the novel’s creation scene, Sir Christopher showed how subsequent adaptations took Mary Shelley’s novel about an intelligent and articulate creature, and its wider debate about existence and transformed it into a much cruder and simplistic story about a monster.

The captivating lecture went on to explain how the word Frankenstein has become shorthand for assorted public anxieties about scientific progress and, since the 1950s, has been applied to everything from heart transplants, robotics to genetically-modified crops. The fact that Frankenstein has become a genuine ‘creation myth for modern times’ makes it extremely flexible and as Frankenstein’s 200th birthday is celebrated this year, he predicted that the afterlife of this iconic character in popular culture and imagination will endure for many more years to come.

In February 2018, a plaque to commemorate Mary Shelley and the writing of Frankenstein in Bath 200 years ago, was unveiled outside the Pump Room by Sir Christopher. Mary Shelley wrote the novel whilst staying at 5 Abbey Church Yard, which was later demolished to make way for the Pump Room extension. Coincidentally there is now a vault beneath the spot where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and this contains an electricity sub-station that delivers thousands of volts to central Bath.

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